Written By Dr. Amy Burkman
Senior Manager of Assessment & Accreditation, School of Education, American Public University System
With the increase in student violence in schools and attention focused on educating at-risk students, the use of alternative education programs (AEPs) has become popular for students who threaten the safety and order of a campus. Alternative education placements are generally made for students who have committed code of conduct violations that are either too serious to allow the student to attend school at his home campus or that are persistent disruptions of the learning environment. In my early career as a school administrator I was the principal of such a program.
As the principal of an alternative education program I became concerned with the overwhelming percentage of students sent to me for “persistent misbehaviors”—almost one-third of all placements. I made it my mission to work with the faculty of the alternative education program to determine the best ways to work with these students and the teachers on their home campuses to correct these behaviors in order to reduce the recidivism rate among persistent misbehaviors.
As part of our behavior correction plan we implemented a three step program for persistent misbehavior students. First, the play therapist that worked with students as part of the alternative education program observed the students on their home campus. This meant that students could not be placed in the alternative education program until classroom observations had been made and the play therapist had worked with the teacher to put a classroom behavior plan in place. If the plan didn’t work, the student was placed at the AEP for a minimum of three weeks.
During the three week initial placement at AEP, the students were put on a token economy system. Students earned points for all positive behaviors in the classroom; this included activities like showing up on time and completing work. If a student obtains a minimum number of points, the day was successful. For points above the minimum, students are awarded special privileges such as extra play time, computer time, or art time. The reward varied by student and was selected by the teacher.
Once the student completed 21 successful days, they began the transition back to the classroom at their home campus. The play therapist would meet with the teacher to share the token economy system was and to encourage the use of the point system to help with the transition back to the classroom. The first three days of the student’s return, the play therapist observed the beginning of the day and any areas identified as trouble spots by the classroom teacher.
This program was very involved, but very successful. Our recidivism rate dropped almost 30 percent in one year, with students who had persistent misbehaviors returning at approximately half the rate of other students. This plan put the focus on correcting the behavior rather than punishing the student.
About the Author
Dr. Burkman has over 15 years of experience as a K-12 educator, as a teacher, librarian and administrator. Dr. Burkman has also served as a professor of educational leadership, first in a part-time capacity and then full time, for the past seven years. In addition to working as an educator, she has also been a provider of professional development for the Texas Education Service Center for Region 11 and several school districts in Texas. Dr. Burkman received a Master’s Degree in Library Sciences from Texas Woman’s University, where she was also inducted in Beta Phi Mu, the International Library & Information Studies Honor Society and she was awarded her doctorate from Texas Christian University.